• First Hands Health

Boost your immunity during coronavirus (and even when there is no pandemic...)

im·mu·ni·ty /iˈmyo͞onədē/ noun the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitized white blood cells.


Let's break it down. Germs or microbes ("infection or toxin") get into your body (the "organism"), usually from another person - by droplet spread (someone sneezes and coughs and the "spray" reaches you and penetrates your mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) or contact transmission (some touches you directly and the microbes enter through infected or broken skin, mucous membranes, or mixes with your body fluids. Currently, scientists are exploring if the novel coronavirus can actually be spread through airborne transmission. Those microbes enter your bloodstream where they are quickly transported through your body to reach an appropriate niche or environment to multiply and colonize the host (you). For respiratory illness, that would be lung tissues. Cue your white blood cells. When the foreign pathogens are detected by specific receptors, your lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) are triggered to produce antibodies that fight the invaders by blocking their replication or by engulfing them and essentially chewing them up. It's your body's version of housekeeping called autophagy. Hmmm...okay. What does that mean for us? We need to keep our bodies in a state where our immune systems can function properly, if not optimally. 6 out of 10 Americans have a chronic disease (4 out of 10 have two or more) which are responsible for 70% of deaths in the United States. So many cases of these are preventable through eating a better diet and improving our lifestyle choices. Nutrition is a key factor in the management of chronic illness (cardiovascular disease, type 1 & 2 diabetes, cancers, dementia, Parkinson's disease, obesity, etc.).


Here are just a few reminders of how you can keep yourself and your family healthy during the pandemic. 1. Citrus fruits

Think clementines, tangerines, oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit. These darling gems of the produce section are chock full of Vitamin C which is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. That's why it's a great idea to start bumping your Vitamin C intake once you start feeling a cold coming on. Since your body doesn't produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. Just one medium-sized orange has about 100 mg of vitamin C, which is 130 percent of that daily recommended intake. It would be very unkind to talk about Vitamin C without bringing up its BFF, zinc. Our bodies need it so that our immune cells can function as intended. Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet. For adult men, it’s 11 milligrams (mg), and for women, it’s 8 mg. Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function. 2. Red bell peppers


Slice 'em with some vegan ranch or sautee 'em in a stirfry; you really can't go wrong with these powerful peppers. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus fruits. Besides boosting your immune system, vitamin C helps maintain healthy skin by neutralizing free radicals (antioxidant properties) and is a co-factor in collagen synthesis (we start losing collagen around age 30) to help ward off wrinkles. They’re also a rich source of beta carotene to keep your eyes and skin healthy. Beta carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A, another powerful antioxidant that helps protect the cornea (surface of the eye) and appears to play a role in decreasing the risk of vision loss from macular degeneration (a disease of aging which causes loss in the center of the field of vision, eventually leading to legal blindness if goes untreated).

3. Greens

Greens are the ultimate powerhouse with low allergenic properties and indisputably high nutritious value. These two green foods featured here can also be found year-round in any grocery store.


Spinach is rich in vitamin C and is also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems. Spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. Light cooking enhances its vitamin A and kills the oxalic acid (oxalate) which can inhibit mineral absorption (such as iron). By far, the easiest way to eat your spinach is to throw a handful into a smoothie. There are loads of recipes online, but I like to keep it super simple with a banana, almond, and a generous handful of baby spinach leaves.


Zucchini is a nutrient-dense fruit that often gets overlooked in the produce section, but once it's grilled or roasted, it often disappears in seconds from the dinner table. For your immune system, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a powerhouse in the produce section. 4. Garlic

Garlic's anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic effects can be attributed to its heavy concentration of allicin, a sulfur-containing (hello, garlic breath) compound that inhibits the growth of or kills a variety of microbes. It's ubiquitous in every almost every culture and adds a unique taste to food that even kids enjoy. In addition to its extensive antimicrobial effects, garlic may also help lower blood pressure and slow down the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Garlic is fantastic because if you don't like to eat it, there are a variety of reputable supplements in pill form that are widely available.


5. Ginger

Ginger is a calming vegetable (not a spice since it's the actual root of a plant) that people can put in tea (sliced and steeped in hot water) or add to cooked dishes for a subtle, almost sweet, taste. Look beyond the zen of ginger and you'll find that it decreases inflammation and anecdotally helps decrease nausea (in early pregnancy when those HCG levels are high or post-operative nausea due to anesthesia or pain medications). From an Ayurvedic perspective, ginger is a superfood, particularly for digestion, respiration and the joints. 6. Almonds


For those without a tree nut allergy, almonds are loaded with vitamin E, key to a healthy immune system. Its potent antioxidant properties and its unique ability to increase the immune system key modulators make it quite the star in terms of necessary vitamins. Almonds also contain a good amount of fiber (4 g) and protein (6 g) in one serving (about 23 almonds) which provides nearly 50 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E. Vitamin E is also essential to cardiovascular health as it helps to dilate blood vessels and keeps blood from clotting within them. 7. Green tea

Green tea is the (less processed) big sister of black tea, if you will, in that it is made from Camellia sinensis leaves and buds that have not undergone the same withering and oxidation process used to make oolong teas and black teas. Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) is a unique plant compound, found in high concentrations in green tea, that is known for its potential to reduce inflammation, contribute to weight loss, and help prevent heart and brain disease. Clinical studies on drinking green tea have found that it helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and the ECGC can help prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine (found also in mushrooms) which is consumed for its potential antioxidant and relaxant effects. Several in vitro and animal studies have shown that L-theanine has lipid-lowering, neuroprotective, antiobesity, and antitumor properties (when combined with chemotherapy).


Take care and be well.

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